University of Vermont

UVM Wins $470,000 Grant to Establish Vermont Natural History Museum

Pringle Herbarium
More than 600,000 specimens are stored in UVM's Pringle Herbarium and Thompson Zoological Collections. Along with expanding access via digitzation, a grant from the NSF creating the University of Vermont Museum of Natural History will also help improve storage conditions, preserving the items for years to come. (Photo: Sally McCay)

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $470,000 grant to the university to establish the University of Vermont Natural History Museum. The museum will consolidate, improve and make more accessible three of the most important natural history collections in the state, all housed at UVM: the flora represented by the plants in the Pringle Herbarium and the fauna as documented in both the invertebrate and vertebrate animal collections in the Thompson Zoological Collections. The combined size of the collections is about 660,000 specimens.

The award will be used to improve specimen storage conditions for each of the collections, reducing the chance of damage from fire, water and pests. It will also enable the university to significantly expand digital imaging efforts currently under way of both the animal and plant collections and of data retrieved from the specimen labels and collection archives. 

The museum, a joint project of the Department of Plant Biology and the Department of Biology, will be located in Torrey Hall, where the collections currently reside.   

“The concept for the museum is to be place that promotes the exploration of biodiversity especially as it relates to Vermont’s natural heritage, through both original research and the teaching of natural history, especially to young people,” said Dave Barrington, chair of the Plant Biology Department, who is spearheading the project.

While the specimens are being secured, curators and students will systematically reorganize them to reflect contemporary taxonomic classification. The reorganization of the collections will expand their access to a wide array of people, Barrington said, including UVM undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, citizen scientists and local volunteers. Outreach efforts will attract K–12 groups interested in learning about biodiversity and conservation through hands-on use of the specimens. The digitization program will also significantly increase their reach to researchers and educators around the world.

By far the largest in the state, the collections serve as the State of Vermont’s official archive for documentation of its flora and fauna. Because of their worldwide geographic scope and long history, they are also a valuable resource for researchers outside the state.

The Pringle Herbarium, curated by Barrington with assistance from Michael Sundue and Dorothy Allard, is a research and teaching resource administered through the Department of Plant Biology. It is the third largest herbarium in New England, exceeded only by those at Harvard and Yale. Physically, the collection is housed in 216 cabinets; currently more than half wooden, and some without functional doors.

The Thompson Zoological Collections, curated by Bill Kilpatrick and Ingi Agnarsson, are research and teaching resources administered through the Department of Biology. They include birds, mammals, amphibians, lizards, snakes, fish, and mollusks, but the collections of mammals and arthropods constitute the most specimen-rich component. These collections are currently housed in 69 small substandard commercial wooden and handmade cabinets.